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Communication and Behavioral Styles
By: Dan Bobinski

"Behavioral styles are the best indicator of preferences in communication.

- Dan Bobinski

A manager’s or leader’s ability to understand and communicate with his or her people is key to organizational effectiveness. It can be assumed that leaders and managers desire to be as effective as they can be. The logical conclusion is that managers and leaders need to take time to learn about communicating and interacting with workers to bring out the best in those around them and create win / win situations.

The DISC Model, used extensively throughout the world, is based on observable human behavior. People act with similar characteristics everywhere, and by learning these basic characteristics, people can increase their communication (even when you don't speak the language)! Managers and leaders who learn and apply the DISC Model are better able to gain commitment, build effective teams, resolve and prevent conflict, and gain credibility and influence (Bonnstetter, Suiter, and Widrick, 1993).

History of the Four Styles

The history of identifying four different types of behavior goes back beyond the time of Christ at least to the time of Hippocrates, in 400 B.C. After much observation of people, Hippocrates postulated that four main types of people existed. He associated each of the four temperaments with a relationship to one of four bodily fluids; blood, black bile, bile, and mucous, and hence named the temperaments Sanguine, Melancholic, Choleric, and Phlegmatic.

Six hundred years later, Galen, a Roman philosopher, also spoke of how he thought these same four bodily fluids effected behavior.

In the 1920's, Carl Jung outlined four types of personality in a psychological sense, but it was William Marston, a psychology professor at Columbia University, who, in 1928, published what we now refer to as the DISC Model of behavioral temperaments.

In the 1950's, Walter Clark developed the Activity Vector Analysis, the first assessment instrument based on Marston's theory (Bonnstetter et al., 1993).

The concept of right and wrong cannot be applied to any behavioral assessment.

DISC is a Neutral Language

It is vitally important to emphasize that the DISC Model and its associated language is inherently neutral. No "good" or "bad" interpretations can be made. Since right and wrong are value judgments, right and wrong cannot be applied to any behavioral assessment. The DISC Assessment and its terminology, therefore, is a neutral language dealing with how people approach and interact with problems, people, pace, and procedures (Bonnstetter et al., 1993).

Due to the vast range and scope of the various methods for assessing behavioral style, this article is restricted to providing an overview of the four "pure" styles. It should be noted, therefore, that the following indicators and observable behaviors describe only the pure style of the quadrant being defined. Observable behaviors will always be influenced by the position of other behavioral factors (Voges & Braund, 1990; Bonnstetter et al., 1993).

Why Learn the Four Styles?

A review of observable indicators provides insight for increasing understanding of how different people prefer to behave. The more managers and leaders know and understand the behavioral differences in the people they lead and manage, the better they can predict and make decisions for what will and will not work on their teams and in their organizations. The more managers and leaders apply this material, the more effective they become.

The DISC only measures behavior. It does not measure intelligence, values, skills, experience, education levels, or training.

The DISC Model in Use Today

The four styles identified by Marston were classified as Dominance, Influencing, Steadiness, and Compliance, resulting in the acronym DISC.
    The "D" (Dominance) factor measures how people respond to problems and challenges.
    The "I" (Influencing) measures how people make contacts with others and influence them to their point of view.
    The "S" (Steadiness) measures how people like consistency and respond to the pace of their environment.
    The "C" (Compliance) measures how people prefer to respond to rules and procedures set by others (Bonnstetter et al., 1993).
To help clarify what the DISC Model measures, it may help to identify what the DISC Model does not measure.

The DISC Model does not measure intelligence levels, values, skills, experience, education levels, or training.

What DISC assessments do measure is behavioral style (a person's preferred manner of doing things), all of which is observable.

To illustrate Marston's theory, the DISC Model can be established with two axis. When established perpendicular to each other, these two axis create four quadrants. According to Marston, "All people exhibit all four behavioral factors in varying degrees of intensity" (as cited in Bonnstetter et al., 1993, p. 7).

As can be seen in the image below, the D and the I are more outgoing and extraverted, whereas the S and the C are more reserved and introverted.

On the other axis, we see that the I and the S are more people-oriented, whereas the D and the C are more task-oriented.

(task-oriented / faster-paced)


Do it NOW

When Communicating:
Stick to business,
Be brief and to the point,
Be prepared with a well-organized “package.”

The Pure Dominance (D) Style (also known as a "Developer" or "Driver," and sometimes hawk, doberman, or lion.)

Core D individuals have a naturally strong desire to be in charge of a situation. If a core D is not the leader of a group be assured that he or she will be pushing the group along so he or she can "achieve results." This tendency also correlates with the core D's strong need to have a challenge. Without a challenge, the D style quickly becomes bored.

Core D's usually like more risk than most people are willing to accept. They also have a strong desire to win. Captain Kirk of Star Trek fame could easily be classified as having a core D temperament. His need for challenge and his willingness to take risks boldly led him to where no man had gone before.

Each style has an associated emotion. For the strong D the emotional is anger. Core D's tend to have a "short fuse" and are usually quick to get angry. Conversely, people scoring low on the D scale tend to have a "long fuse" and it takes a lot to get them angry.

In terms of communications, strong D types are direct and pointed, often forgoing tact and diplomacy so they can quickly get to their business. As one core D manager says, "People are only a means to accomplish results and sometimes they get in the way" (as cited in Voges & Braund, 1990, p.82).

Observable factors to help identify a core D individual include extroversion, being task-oriented, impatience with people, making quick decisions, making lots of changes, usually in a hurry to get somewhere, and setting many goals. They like to delegate but don't often take the time to teach.

Additionally, core D's can be identified by their self-starting capacity, their ability to push activities along so that deadlines are met, their ability to focus on the possibilities, and how they place a high value on time. They are often the initiators in activities and will be the ones most likely to challenge the status quo (Voges & Braund, 1990; Bonnstetter et al., 1993).

Effective communications usually includes being the ability to create an environment that allows a person to work in their own motivations. This adapting means temporarily adjusting your style to fit with another. For a core D, one must use clarity and brevity in all communications, staying on the point and focusing on how it will lead to results. An orderly "package" of information, be it written or verbal, helps the core D stay with a conversation. Trying to build personal relationships or talking about irrelevant topics will cause a core D to "check out" of the conversation early on (Voges & Braund, 1990; Bonnstetter et al., 1993).

Core D's often like options so that they feel a sense of control in the choosing of the option that seems best to them. They will enjoy data that focuses on the likelihood of success for each set of options. NOTE: it is best to make these options win / win so people on the team will not lose out from the core D's choosing options that win for the bottom line but lose for the other people concerned -- remember, they're task-oriented folks (Voges & Braund, 1990; Bonnstetter et al., 1993).

(people-oriented, faster-paced)


of life

When Communicating:
Provide a warm, friendly environment,
Put details in writing,
Ask “feeling” questions.

* * * * *

The Pure Influencing (I) Style (also known as a "Promoter" or "Expressive" and sometimes Otter, Peacock, or Dolphin.)

Core I individuals have a naturally strong level of trust. They naturally like to interact with other people, usually verbally. Core I's do not like to be alone, and often seek social interaction. Being liked and gaining approval is very important.

"I"'s like to see others get excited about life. For the very high pure I style, this can occur to the point of exaggeration. Core I's express themselves very well and seek to enjoy all of life's experiences. Robin Williams, the famous comedian and actor, could easily be classified as having a core I style. His outgoing, fun-loving, and gregarious persona allows him to enjoy himself and get along with others no matter where or what he is doing.

The emotional factor for an "I" is optimism. Core I's tend to believe that even the most difficult things can be accomplished if enough people rally together. Conversely, people scoring low on the I scale tend to be skeptical and pessimistic.

In terms of communications, strong I's are quick to think on their feet and find excuses for not following through on projects, which is often a result of their spending too much time socializing (Voges & Braund, 1990).

Core I's are usually impulse buyers, and often use lots of gestures and emotional display when talking.

Additionally, core I's can be identified by their creative problem-solving ability, their positive sense of humor, and placing a high value on being a team-player. They're often good at negotiating conflict. Bottom line, they are often very good at articulating themselves verbally.

Effective communications with a core I means allowing time to talk and socialize, talking about what interests them, their friends, and their goals. By focusing on the people involved and the actions required by those people, relationships are fostered. If details are to be communicated it is always best to present it in written form so the core I's can refer to it later.

Always ask for opinions and be stimulating, fast-moving, and enthusiastic. Don't do all the talking, but be careful not to let them overcontrol the conversation, either. By providing ideas for implementing action items, you allow core I's to envision what it is you want them to do. Unlike core D's, core I's are already thinking win / win (Voges & Braund, 1990; Bonnstetter et al., 1993).

(people-oriented / slower-paced)


Peace and Loyalty

When Communicating:
Begin with a personal comment (break the ice),
Present your case softly and nonthreateningly,
Give “time to think”

* * * * *

The Pure Steadiness (S) Style (also known as a "Specialist" or "Amiable," and sometimes Golden Retriever or Dove.)

Core S's also have a naturally strong desire to serve others and to help get projects completed. The core S is very loyal, patient, peace-loving, and relaxed. Often the stabilizing factor on a team, core S's prefer working toward long-term relationships. They are quite practical and patient, doing what needs to be done so a job is completed. Core S's prefer to finish one project before starting another.

Andy Griffith has played several well-known characters on television, and they are almost always core S. From his role as a small-town sheriff to his portrayal of the lawyer Matlock, Andy Griffith always lets his nonassuming, easy-going, and steady temperament shine through.

The emotional factor for an S is nonemotion. It is important to note that core S people have a lot of emotions, it's just that they tend not to display them. You could say that Core S's usually have a good poker face. Conversely, people scoring low on the S scale tend to "wear their heart on their sleeve."

Strong S types are indirect and like to take their time when making decisions.

Observable factors to help identify core S's include introversion, being people-oriented, and leaning towards more traditional ways of doing things. They enjoy a relaxed pace, are usually tolerant of other behavioral extremes, and work well off of daily "to-do" lists.

A little on the sloppy side, core S's enjoy short-term goals that have low-risk factors. A lot of changes can be very stressful for the core S. Therefore, it's a good idea to provide plenty of advanced warning for any changes in procedures so the core S has time to adjust (Voges & Braund, 1990; Bonnstetter et al., 1993).

Additionally, core S's can be identified by their dependability and hard work for their leader. They are patient and empathetic listeners, good at creating harmony by allowing everyone to be heard when tensions are high.

To create an environment that allows core S's to work in their own motivations, keep things fairly personal. Staying with business-only (bottom-line) talk will cause an eventual disengagement and a slowdown in an S's productivity.

Therefore, effective communications with core S people means presenting goals and objectives logically, softly, and nonthreateningly. Talk about what interests them and their goals without moving from topic to topic rapidly. This allows time for them to process, and then they can better contribute toward the organizational goal.

Caution: Always watch the body language on core S's, because if they disagree with a direction or objectives, they are not likely to say anything. After all, core S people dislike confrontation. If you see them clamming up, draw them out in a nonthreatening manner and give them time to formulate their thoughts (Voges & Braund, 1990; Bonnstetter et al., 1993).

(task-oriented / slower-paced)



When Communicating:
Prepare your case in advance,
Stick to business,
Keep emotions to a minimum,
Be accurate and realistic

* * * * *

The Pure Compliance (C) Style (also known as "Objective Thinkers" or "Analyticals," and sometimes Owl or Beaver.)

Core C individuals have a naturally strong desire to follow procedures. They want to know what has worked in the past and stick with that. Core C's perceive that rules have been established for a reason, and it makes sense to adhere to what procedures have been established. They are slow to accept change, wanting proof in the form of hard data and facts before making changes.

The core C is very loyal, taking whatever time might be necessary to complete a task with detailed precision. Being extremely attentive to detail, core C's will not produce sloppy work.

The character of Felix Unger from The Odd Couple is a good example of a Core C. As a highly perfectionistic and organized roommate, Felix's exaggerated characteristics were often labeled as too restrictive by other's with less C in their temperament.

The emotional factor is fear. In other words, they are very aware of the consequences for not following procedures, and want to avoid those consequences. Core C's like low-risk situations and following procedures. Conversely, people scoring low on the C scale tend to show no concern at all for breaking with established policy (Bonnstetter et al., 1993).

In terms of communications, strong C types are direct but relatively non-emotional in their search for facts and data. Observable factors include introversion, being task-oriented, and leaning towards a critical approach to information and/or procedures. They are very concerned about how change will affect the status quo, and are very reserved with respect to body language, using few, if any, gestures. Core C's avoid conflict and may not even respond when challenged.

Additionally, core C's can be identified by their objective thinking and maintaining high standards as they conscientiously pursue information to fulfill their assigned duties. They tend to be very diplomatic and pay close attention to even the smallest details.

Communicating effectively with C's means being straightforward, direct, and emotion-free. They like to see action plans in writing, complete with deadlines and mid-course progress assessments. Being vague about what is expected will cause tension, as will forcing them to make quick decisions. Take time to cover what needs to be covered, but don't veer off track. If a core C disagrees with you, provide data and facts from a respected source.

Core C's like time to gather data on their own and determine the credibility of the data.

Similar to a core S, core C individuals need time to adjust to changes in the workplace. By involving core C's in the change-making process, they give good input and possibly catch potential blindspots missed by others.

"Good managers and leaders capitalize on the strengths of each style."

- Dan Bobinski

Appreciating the Differences

Many individuals make the mistake of believing that everyone else would be more effective if they were just "more like me." Instead, highly effective communications can occur if managers and leaders followed three simple steps:

   1. know that four main temperaments exist,
   2. understand the differences among these temperaments, and
   3. appreciate the strengths in each of these temperaments.

Good teamwork and good work environments exist when the workplace managers and leaders utilize the strengths of all four types of people. Knowing how to appreciate and apply the knowledge of temperaments and behavior styles provides managers and leaders a great opportunity to bring out the best in people and create win/win environments. Therefore, using a quality DISC Assessment is like using a tool that opens doors of communications for all concerned. Some call these communication skills "people skills." With that in mind, it is significant to note that motivational speaker and author Zig Ziglar states that "over 80% of the people who move up in corporations are promoted because of their people skills, NOT technical ability" (as cited in Bonnstetter et al., 1993, p. 146).


Behavioral styles are neither good nor bad: they simply indicate how a person responds to problems and challenges, people and contacts, pace and consistency, and procedures and constraints. Observed by scientists and philosophers over the centuries, these basic styles continue to prove themselves true through the use of behavioral assessments. Managers and leaders who seek more effective work environments will do themselves well to know and understand these temperaments, and apply their knowledge and understanding for optimum communication.

Bonnstetter, Bill J., Suiter, Judy I., & Widrick, Randy J. (1993).
The universal language DISC: A reference manual. Phoenix: Target Training International.
Voges, Ken R., & Braund, Ron L. (1990).
Understanding how others misunderstand you: A proven plan for strengthening personal relationships. Chicago: Moody.

© 2000 Leadership Development

"People cannot be classified by one behavioral style"

- Dan Bobinski

The Classical Patterns

Although it is easy to assume that people can be classified as having one dominant behavioral style, the scoring, or placement, of the other three factors play a significant role in defining behavioral style. Subcategories, or as Geier states, classical patterns, titled by the strength of a second and possibly third behavioral strength can assist in identifying and working with each individual's unique style (Voges & Braund, 1990). As mentioned above, key observable behaviors will always be influenced by the position of other behavioral factors.

Under the D, or Dominance quadrant, exist four classical patterns:
  A "Developer" is the Core D alone
  A "Results-Oriented" person has a Core D with a strong I
  An "Inspirational" has the D and I at equal strength
  A "Creative" has a Core D with a strong C

Under the I, or Influencing quadrant, exist four classical patterns:
  A "Promoter" is the Core I alone
  A "Persuader" has a Core I with a strong D
  A "Counselor" has a Core I with a strong S
  An "Appraiser" has a Core I with a strong C

Under the S, or Steadiness quadrant, exist four classical patterns:
  A "Specialist" is the Core S alone
  An "Achiever" has a Core S with a strong D
  An "Agent" has a Core S with a strong I
  An "Investigator" has a Core S with a strong C

Under the C, or Compliance quadrant, exist three classical patterns:
  An "Objective Thinker" is the Core C alone
  A "Perfectionist" has a Core C with a strong S and a mildly strong D
  A "Practitioner" has a Core C with a strong I and a strong S.

Author Dan Bobinski is a certified behavioral analyst, specializing in DISC and other temperament styles for over ten years. Got a question? Send Dan an Email
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